So here we are on a Friday morning and we are so excited not only for another weekend but we have the new exclusive video premier from Stone Driver & “Long Way Down.” Stone Driver is a critically acclaimed rock band from Washington, DC that harnesses grunge, blues rock, progressive, and psychedelic influences to create powerful and electrifying music. It was so cool for founder & lead guiatrist Chad Lesch to take the time to give us an update on everything going on. We got to chat about everything from the full-length album “Mannequins” and the single “Long Way Down”, making music in such turbulent times, consuming music, and so much more.
@skopemag – Where are we talking about and how are you holding up between the civil unrest, Covid-19, etc?
S: Hey brother Stoli, it’s awesome to meet you and it’s great to be talking to you. We’re located in Washington DC, so both the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the civil rights movement have been front and center in not only our geography, but also in our thoughts and actions.
Regarding COVID-19, outside of the significantly more important and complex societal and global health implications, it has metastasized in the music community as well. Stone Driver had two big festivals and a headlining concert canceled this summer, so it’s definitely been devastating for live music and the revenue that usually comes from that to help support working musicians, as well as the music venues (and their employees) that enable those events and depend on them for crowds. Social distancing has hurt rehearsals and collaboration, new music release plans with promotional shows have been delayed, and the mental stress of these unprecedented times affects us all differently and weighs heavily. That said, musicians are typically a resilient lot, and we’ve worked hard to find different ways to collaborate and are investing an incredible amount of extra time into channeling the stress from everything around us into creating new music and connecting with our fans virtually. Sometimes it’s hard to be creative when your world gets turned upside down, but once you get your bearings and go with the flow music can be a great catharsis, and certainly has been for me personally.
Regarding the civil rights movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd (and atrocities that have taken place for hundreds of years prior), my personal focus has been to ask, listen, learn, reflect, and act. We’ve taken advantage of our first amendment rights to support the cause and continue to have challenging and vulnerable conversations on how we can not only better ourselves, but also figure out how we can better aim our resources and volunteer hours into long term and sustainable efforts supporting organizations that have been tackling these issues for decades. Systematic racism has a lot of different touch points in society, and I think any solutions are going to need to have multi-pronged and long term action plans to eviscerate inequality. As horrible as things have been though, I still believe that we can make a difference, and this time in our history has the potential to be perhaps one of our finest hours in regards to citizens driving change to provide justice and equality to all. I’m hopeful that this movement doesn’t get washed out in our ADHD style news cycle, and that the increased presence of protestors in the streets also carries over to the ballot box for many years to come. I think keeping this national conversation going on is a small but critical component of keeping that constant pressure up to affect change.
@skopemag: I commend you for keeping your passion for music going through all this. How do you stay positive and motivated with a constant barrage of negativity in the news?
S: Ha and thank you! Truth be told I kind of cheated: circa mid-COVID I canceled my newspaper subscriptions for a bit (sorry WaPo and NYT). I recognized that the constant headlines of ever worsening actual and projected conditions just got a little too hard to start my day off with every morning. I kept up on all COVID-19 safety guidelines direct from the CDC website and local government briefings so I wasn’t totally in the dark, and tried to “unplug” from the “End Is Nigh” barrage of opinion and editorial pieces that may have been quite accurate, but not “uplifting” to someone trying to navigate the challenging times being described.
Passion-wise, there definitely was some initial frustration with shows being canceled and the hindered ability to get together as a group like I mentioned earlier, but damned if you don’t just take that anger, loss, sadness, etc and try to pour it into your art to get some sort of release. Can’t play that festival? Take the time you would have spent prepping and promoting the gig and pour it into writing a new song. New song release delayed? Take the time you would have spent hyping the new track and reach out to some of your fans to see how they are holding up. For me staying still is death. When the first instinct is to freeze up from what can seem like overwhelming events, redirecting the energy I would have been spending “if life was normal” into something else productive seems to keep me trucking on the road and between the ears.
@skopemag: So what inspired you to create Stone Driver and how long would you say it took to develop the sound you are known for today?
S: Stone Driver started as just wanting to create what I thought was a cool band that didn’t already exist. I was a kid in a special time where 90s rock was exploding while I was still listening to blues and classic rock hits from the late 60s and 70s. I always loved the harder rocking edge of grunge and wanted to combine it with some of the longer acid rock and trippy album concepts that were more prevalent in the classic rock era. Kind of like if the Georgia Satellites, Pink Floyd, and Pearl Jam had a love child; that certainly is an odd (and open-minded) coupling and as such might be a good descriptor of what the band is.
I think our “sound” will always be evolving; if it’s not, I’m not doing my job right. I’ve been able to work with a number of great musicians over our prior three albums and a few singles (big QOTSA and Desert Sessions musician diversity fan in this regard), so every album is a little different sound wise with a diversity of musical input. First album ‘Descent’ was very “clean” sounding and a wide mix of song genres with some personal gems in there; our second album ‘Rocks’ has this huge epic sounding soundscape and diversity of tracks thanks to producer Sefi Carmel; and our third album ‘Chasing Demons’ had this awesome gritty and raw feel as a direct result from working with Grammy winning production maestro John Seymour (Santana’s Supernatural, Dave Matthews Band, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, etc). Our latest album I’m proud to announce for the first time is called “Mannequins”, and we once again wisely partnered with John Seymour on it. Best way I can describe it is gritty and raw like the best parts of Chasing Demons, but with significantly more dynamics and complexity than what we’ve ever created before; I think both the band and post production on this one is special. We’re extremely proud of it, and are stoked to share our first track called “Long Way Down” exclusively with Skope Magazine.
@skopemag: I am not familiar, so how was the live music scene in Washington, DC before Covid-19, when people could go out at night?
S: The local DC music scene has a strong and genuinely supportive community of musicians which is special to be a part of, but not nearly the same “size of scene” as LA, Nashville, NYC, Austin, etc. As Yoda would say, “A self-licking ice-cream cone does not a music scene create.”, shout out to the 70s Go-Go scene with bands like Rare Essence and Trouble Funk, and 80’s DC punk and hardcore scenes with bands like Fugazi, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat which were insane and helped put DC on the map musically. The music is still here today with some incredible mid-sized but legendary venues, you just have to look a little harder to find it. The global music scene has certainly gone through some radical changes, but locally I think we need to keep expanding the community and sharing the unique music narrative that DC brings to the table. This city is an absolute melting pot of so many diverse music styles; you can hear almost any musical genre true to its most traditional form in DC, but also hear what happens when you stick a GoGo musician in the same room as a jazz artist and a punk rocker and see what unique and truly special comes out the other end. I think that’s DC’s story today, a musical melting pot where you can get the ingredients about as pure or mixed up as you could possibly imagine, and everything in-between. Stone Driver’s sound and the freedom to go a couple different musical directions has definitely benefited from this.
@skopemag: How much time per week do you devote to Stone Driver and do you also have jobs/family/etc to attend to?
S: Too much, but I can’t help it. People who know me say that I seem to take a certain revelry in chaos at times, and personally speaking while the tornado doesn’t always feel good, the “unmoving air” feels worse. I’m unbelievably lucky to have a loving and incredibly supportive wife, and am continuing to have my brain expanded and logic questioned by an incredibly smart, strong, and brave four year old daugher. I also have a pug named Rocky, but we aren’t on speaking terms :-)
@skopemag: I always love to ask music enthusiasts what platform they prefer to consume music and why? Truth be told, I am Amazon Music Unlimited member!
S: I’m a tiny bit of an audiophile, but completely motivated by wanting to hear greater clarity in the musical performance, as opposed to Brett Easton Elis’s “American Psycho” portrayal of Patrick Bateman’s consumer culture stereo, so I feel a little better about myself. Because of that, if I can’t get the album on vinyl it’s Tidal all the way for me. Best streaming audio available with high quality MQA files, exclusive deep tracks from older albums, and a really effective algorithm to expose you to new music. Jay-Z is running it and knows what he is doing; it’s a genuinely great streaming service and truly rewards the music fan with quality tracks and exclusive cuts.
@skopemag: So the big news is the release of your fourth full-length album “Mannequins” and the single “Long Way Down” with a video premiere @skopemag. Offer us some history on how long you have been working on these projects and how are you feeling about the final product?
S: ‘Mannequins’ has admittedly taken some time; the band was kicking out an LP a year from 2016-2018, focusing more on playing out, and we went through some line-up changes; needless to say things were busy. Then with COVID-19 and the more important civil rights movement, a lot of things got put on pause again for good reason. One of the yet to be released tracks, “Missing You”, was largely written two years ago for context. That said though, I think the extra time, experience, and focus on details & dynamics has made this one come out “just right”. If it wasn’t for the overarching delays we never would have partnered up with ex LA Guns frontman Scott Foster Harris; had the extra time and creative bandwidth to really get in the weeds with John Seymour; and been able to get things sounding their absolute best in the studio. Larry Joseloff (bass), Neenah Gee (keyboards and backing vocals), and Derek Falzoi (percussion) sound absolutely magical, and each brings their own unique voice to the band that gives it our own sound. The tracks are by far some of the finest work we’ve ever done, and I’m both humbled and stoked to share it with everyone to check out. That, and the music video is retro-trippy as hell in an awesome way.
@skopemag: Your last LP “Chasing Demons” was released in May 2018. How would you say this album is different and how has bringing on LA Guns frontman Scott Foster Harris & Grammy-winner John Seymour’s production helped enhance the music?
S: ‘Mannequins’ is going to be grittier at times, sleazier at others, and it has more vulnerable and gentle moments when compared to our earlier releases. The classic Stone Driver “space rock” sound is there, but perhaps a little more distilled and amplified at times more than before. It’s a musical roller coaster ride over the continuing worsening global terrain that just keeps getting a little wilder and a little more sinister as things boil up. The production level is the best we have ever sounded, bar none.
Regarding the singer change I think the world of John Gossart, who was our last recorded lead singer and the voice behind “Descent”, “Rocks”, and “Chasing Demons”. I couldn’t be prouder of those records tip to tail, and John was literally and figuratively instrumental in making that happen. I consider him a good and trusted friend, as well as an incredibly talented songwriter and musician. Any change is going to be different, but working with Scott has been absolutely awesome and inspirational as well. He’s exceptionally accomplished and an expert at his craft; working with someone who used to front LA Guns and Zen Rizing is pretty surreal for me. But the most important thing is that outside of his resume he’s a genuinely kind and creative spirit, zero ego, and puts his heart and soul into everything he does (not to mention RIPS on vocals). Collaborating with a Grammy winner like Seymour is very similar; he’s a guy that has literally worked with legends from Santana to U2 to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and has forgotten more than most of us will ever learn about the art and science behind world-class and creative production and song-writing. But when you meet him and start talking and working on your project it’s the same thing: zero ego and 100% committed to working with you to help your project sound better than you could have ever imagined. Both Scott Foster Harris and John Seymour bring a collective level of experience and artistic impact to the latest album that is absolutely unique, and did it in a humble and unassuming way that make it phenomenal to collaborate and create with them person to person.
@skopemag: The video for “Long Way Down” is awesome and really psychedelic and virtual reality. How does that visual help spread the message within the song?
S: Thanks, it’ll give you a flashback if you aren’t careful (you’re welcome)! The visuals tried to capture two elements of the song. First there is the “long way down” (and short time to get there) path of self-destruction that you can find yourself on from a lot of different vices and attitudes that can completely destroy yourself and those around you. It also aggressively dives in introspectively a “long way down” to try and truly get to the root of what is causing the challenges and work through them, or at least co-exist peacefully. Total self-absorbed cycle of psycho-babble destruction but with a twist of hope at the end, which we tried to capture in both the music and the music video cinematography. Visually I think you’ll see the “first half” of the music video centered around a lot of superficial and deadly stress creators, with the “second half” more focused on effective self-discovery (opening doors, not seeing the background black and white, etc), before it all comes crashing down anyway. It’s up to the viewer to decide if the “Inception” film spinning top totem keeps rolling at the end for the story teller or if it’s finally “splat”. Pop references aside, it’s trying to deal with the real mental issues and challenges of self-destructive behavior, and healing/vulnerability, before it can become too late. That and it has a cartoon squirrel.
@skopemag: As we all know social media is crucial and you have all of the bases covered there. But since you can’t hit the road at the moment, how else do you plan to get the word out to current & new fans?
S: More and more music and new artistic video releases to complete the full album drop! If we can’t put our energy into playing live we’re going to double down in the studio. Try and channel that energy and emotion into something good, write and record something unique with it, produce the hell out of it with Seymour, and then share it once it’s ready. Perhaps some live streaming, but I draw the line at self created social media influencer style Q&A sessions.
@skopemag: So in closing, I like to give you the floor to push anything I may have missed and let the good folks know where the can like, follow, fan, etc, you?
S: Great questions and thank you, I think we covered all the bases and I’ve probably talked too much as is. Sincere thanks to both you and Skope for featuring us (long time fans) and excited to share the music video with your readers!